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Portraits of Baltimore

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around Baltimore.

Kellsie Lewis

Ever since I was a little girl obsessing over America’s Next Top Model and Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows, I knew that fashion would be a constant in my life as I grew older. I admired the creativity in each episode or scene and the confidence of those modeling it. I used to create duck tape purses and bows, wear suspenders and accessories with my school uniform, as well as hot glue fabrics together because I was not the best at sewing. In July of 2018, when I was 13 years old, I decided to create my fashion brand, The Lavish Couture Collection. I wanted to spread my love for fashion with other girls my age. As my brand developed, my brand has grown to have greater meaning. When I was younger, I was blind to the fact that America’s Next Top Model and Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows lacked diversity in race, ethnicity, height, and size. I wanted to make the Lavish Couture Collection a safe space for shoppers of all identities. A brand that started from my simple love of fashion has grown to become a brand of identity, belonging, and community. Read more>>

Gigi Nash

I started my career right after Law School. For ten years, I worked in that profession while managing a family and moving around as a spouse of a Naval Officer. After giving birth to our third child, and feeling unfulfilled in my professional career, I decided to follow my passion for wellness and fitness. I first started by teaching fitness classes and workshops, but that soon grew into helping clients with personal training and coaching. In 2006, I started what is now Mhayamovement and Mhayamovement Fitness as a way to center all of the pieces of my whole-person approach to developing healthy clients with healthy lifestyles. Read more>>

Izlia Fernandez

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, my journey into art started as a teenager. I received my Bachelor’s in Fine Art at Florida International University and my Master’s in Fine Art at Brooklyn College. It is there that I met fellow artist Ash Lusk. Together we’ve partnered to create a new gallery space in Baltimore called Small Bombs Gallery. Baltimore is a city rich in history and we hope to add our voices to the local art scene. Read more>>

Megan Shoup

It all started with a true passion for fashion, witty comments, and a knack for design. PressedUp was founded by two friends, Jen and Megan, who owned other companies and decided they wanted to join forces. They added their bestie Chrissy to the team as the social media maven. Since we are all Marylanders, we wanted to show our love for our great state! Our new Maryland Collection has a wide variety of options to help you represent Maryland and the DMV! Our goal is to create high-quality and affordable apparel for things in life you are passionate about, including where you live. Our mission is to give back… so, we created the Fight Charity campaign! For any adult shirt sold, we will donate our signature Fight shirt to a cancer patient on your behalf. One purchased = One Donated! Read more>>

Danika Girdner

I’m originally from Nebraska. I jumped around a lot as a kid between states and cities due to a number of different things. My environment growing up was full of poverty, instability, domestic violence, and mental health deficiencies. Because of that, I consistently felt a need to escape from reality. I got into theatre and choir, which fed and inspired my creative side. Although I sometimes managed to escape, I was still very aware of what was causing the dysfunction in my home, so I chose to go to college to learn more about mental health, with the hopes of one day having the knowledge to I guess heal my mom. Read more>>

Tahj Lake

Well, I grew up in poverty… always been a music head. So, I started getting in the booth a lot Read more>>

Vinaya Saunders

It’s been my passion to help people all my life, I started as a yoga instructor. I was a yoga contractor for federal office employees. For several years, I taught corporate yoga and I could only help my clients physically. There were emotional issues and extra things I was not able to get out of. That’s made me dive into learning Ayurveda (Indian holistic medicine). That gave me insight into customizing my client’s schedules, diet, routine, and to top it all personalize yoga for their body type. After that, I again hit a dead end with helping out my clients as there was a bigger aspect of the mind. Energy healing therapy opened me to amazing opportunities of healing a person on their energy level. Along with my dedication to mediation. I am very happy to combine everything in all my services with anyone who needs transformation. Read more>>

Mallorie Holmes

Hi, I’m Mallorie. I’m a sweet, sassy, southern girl from Savannah, Ga who is the owner of I built Cupcakes & Sweet Treats by M, which is my baby. It all started when a friend of mine brought home cupcakes from a coworker. I remember it like it was yesterday because the cupcake was lemon-flavored, which is my favorite flavor. The cupcake was so good and moist! A few months later, I asked my friend if he could get the co-worker to make the same lemon-flavored cupcakes for me but she had relocated to another city. Disappointed, I went online to find a recipe and went to the store to purchase supplies, and guess what? The cupcakes sucked. They tasted nothing like the cupcakes I was craving. However, I was determined and kept trying until one day, I did it! I made a lemon cupcake I loved! During that process, I developed a love for baking. I had no prior experience but I loved getting in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes and putting a twist on them. Read more>>

Jennifer Stuck

Growing up, my dad was an amazing cook but even better baker. I loved spending time with him in the kitchen and always loved baking but it wasn’t until my husband got stationed in San Diego, CA with the Navy that an opportunity to attend culinarily came up. I attended the San Diego Culinary Institute in LA Mesa. But shortly after graduating, I had my first of three boys and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. As my kids grew, I was making birthday cakes, preschool treats, playdate goodies, and over time friends started asking me to make their cakes. And then finally in 2017, I started my home-based bakery. Read more>>

Nikoletta Kataxenos

My name is Nikoletta, I was born in Rhodes, Greece and in 2006 my family and I moved to Baltimore, MD. It was so difficult adjusting to our new lifestyle at the time and having to learn English and meet new people, but fast forward to today I am so thankful we made that move! Growing up, I was always the “artsy” one in the family. Photography was my first passion and then I go into makeup, which led me to create a YouTube channel. YouTube gave me the confidence I never knew I had. I loved creating content and sharing it with the world. In 2018, I graduated from Stevenson University with a degree in Digital marketing. After graduating, I knew I didn’t want to work in the corporate world so I started doing makeup for weddings full-time. Makeup is my passion and after doing it for so many years (and still do it today) I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Read more>>

Mecca Brown

When I’m entering in high school, I got my first pair of heels and it was all over! Since then I loved to dress stylishly and wear trendy outfits. I just knew years later, I wanted to open my own online women’s boutique. I knew I could do it with my eyes closed. Read more>>

Dr. Shawanda Moore

Our company started under the name Putty’s Tax Services in 2010 and later became Royal Financial Services in 2018 and has been successfully operating. The company started out by assisting low-income individuals and senior citizens with filing their taxes free of charge. It was one of our first community service projects done under our company’s name that assisted with passion and purpose versus profit. In 2014, we became a profitable business but continued community services on an annual basis such as Thanksgiving Baskets Give-A-Ways, Christmas Toys, and Activities Event, School Supplies, and Uniforms Drives, and many more. Read more>>

Karen Morris

To be a fashion designer has been my dream since I was six. Since my home town Hong Kong is a more business and finance-oriented city, I chose Business Administration as a major in University. After graduation, I had been working in marketing and sourcing companies for eight years, until I met my husband, Jeff in 2008 and it changed my career and life. I moved to Minneapolis in 2009. Shortly after the move, I got a serious depression because I don’t have my family and friends in Minnesota or any around Minnesota. They are all based in Hong Kong. Jeff tried very hard to help me and asked me to look for something to learn so that I can kill the time and meet some new friends. At the same time, there were few royal weddings that cause me fell in love with hats and headpieces. That’s how I started. Read more>>

Janice B.

I’ve always been intuitive and a believer in the holistic approach to wellness. I am a singer/songwriter with musical releases locally in Baltimore as well as overseas. Reiki found me in 2016. After being present when both my father and mother transitioned (2014 and 2016 respectively), I was led to learn more about energy work. I studied crystal healing and Reiki (a Japanese technique channeling Universal Life Force energy to promote healing) and began seeing clients. In January 2017, I received my Master Teacher Certification in Usui Holy Fire 2 Reiki and began teaching and certifying others in this amazing modality. I am clairsentient and incorporate an integrative approach to my healing sessions. Read more>>

Ameenah Samuel

Hey everyone! I started illustrating as a way to help with my postpartum depression. I learned that being creative can help with anxiety and depression. So, on my daughter’s cracked iPad, I started drawing and sharing my art on IG. One day, someone mentioned that I should start selling my art. Because my word for that year was “yes,” I had to do it lol! I was nervous but went ahead with the support of my husband and children. Through a lot of studying about illustration (self-taught) and my husband stepping in and working with me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Read more>>

Ericka Alexander

I come from a family of creatives and have always been pretty crafty as well as having a love for decorating. As I started having kids, I was always told I threw good parties and had good ideas for their birthdays. Due to this, my friends started to name me the decorator for gatherings we would have. I decided around 2019, that I would start an event planning/decorating business. I began to buy items that I would need and started doing small balloon decorations, for my kids mainly at first. Last year, July 2020. I had a small gathering at my apartment for about six of my closest friends. As they came in and saw how I decorated, they said “why won’t you just become a party planner.” I knew it was my passion and I wanted to do it! I needed a push I guess. Read more>>

David Lloyd

When I was a senior in high school, I started getting my eyebrows waxed. Growing up, I had very thick and straight eyebrows, which were not the trend at the time. Getting my eyebrows waxed was my solution for that; I loved how it made them look super clean and arched. I shortly realized how often I would need to get them done in order to keep up with the maintenance and at the time that was not an option. Being a high school student who was already paying bills on a part-time job, I did not have the extra cash to spare. One day, I came across the thought of filling in my eyebrows using makeup; I was very nervous about the idea of it. Being a closeted teenager, I was afraid of what people might say. Read more>>

Vivek Singh

My name is Vivek Singh. I was born in Kolkata, India, and moved to the USA a few years ago with my wife. I am a software professional and I love my work. I am a foodie and I love the outdoors. I love the hike and running. I love reading about people and places, about their culture, food, and clothes. It makes me feel connected with the whole world. I have seen poverty from close quarters but all the sacrifices of my parents and the lessons they taught me helped me scale the ladder to where I am now. My father died of COVID-19 last year when my wife was six months pregnant. That was the most difficult time of my life and I was at my lowest but I have a loving family and a few supportive friends and they provided me the strength to come out of that time. I believe I can survive anything now. Read more>>

Arrington Foster

Hey! My name is Arrington Foster. I am an actor from Clinton, Maryland. I began acting as a child doing various plays and musicals. The theater was definitely my outlet and where I found my passion for performing. After high school, I went to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX where I got my Bachelor of Arts in Theater and minor in Communication Studies in 2012. In 2015, I decided to make the big move to LA to pursue acting in film/TV. After doing a few National commercials such as Wells Fargo & Stein Mart and print gigs for Herbalife & Bank of America I had my first major audition in 2017. I landed the role of “Rio Duncan” on the hit TV series The Family Business on BET plus. Read more>>

Rykia Johnson

Well, I was a fashion designer first but I always had a love for nails and I love to create. I started as doing an apprenticeship at a salon but the tech I was supposed to be under did not have her senior license. Once I found out, I decided to go to cosmetology school but I was originally gonna move out of town, so I was gonna wait but Regency Beauty School said I could start and transfer if I moved. Well two months before graduation my school shut down for money laundering. I had to wait a month for everything to get transferred to Maryland Beauty Academy where I finished. I have worked with some amazing Nail Techs that have taught me a lot. I also do locs and individual lashes and crochet items. Read more>>

Lakisha Pridgen

I was fired from my state job in around 2011 or 2012 I promised myself that I would never work a 9 to 5 again. As a child, I always wanted to do hair and own my own salon for around 16 years old, I would braid and do all my friends’ hair. In 2012, I was introduced to a man who sold Brazilian hair I would purchase hair from him for myself and my daughter to wear. I told him my dreams and goals and from there we became business partners. I would sell the bundles that he gave me and he would pay me a certain percentage off of each bundle I made so much money doing that that I finally started buying from him bundles in bulk for me to sell and start my own brand. How it all started I came up with a name Dalohair is the first to initials of my oldest daughter name and lo is the first two initials of my youngest daughter name I wanted my business to be for my children a legacy. Read more>>

Ennese Johnson

I’ve always loved baking. Since I was a little girl, I loved watching and helping my mom bake cakes like Pineapple Upside-down and Bundt cakes. I also come from a long line of business owners so owning my own business has always been a dream of mine but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to own. When the time came, I went off to college and got my degree in Business Administration in the Summer of 2020. During that time, I worked mostly gig jobs delivering food and groceries. I had also been baking new treats every week as a hobby. I had been stewing overselling those baked goods for a while and thought I’d go directly to my sphere for inspiration. I asked my friends and online followers what they would be interested in buying and a friend reminded me of a marketing project in high school I did selling cake pops. Fast forward to December 2020, I pushed myself to just start a website, get my business credentials, and bake some samples. Read more>>

Elle Everett

We moved to Gettysburg to get out of the city. My husband and I were living in Washington, D.C. next to the National Mall and would escape the traffic and the chaos by coming to Gettysburg on the weekends for a day trip to explore the countryside and enjoy the quieter pace of life. It wasn’t until one day when the stress quite literally nearly killed my husband and we were sitting in the hospital room when we decided we needed to move to Gettysburg. Eight months later, we did just that and then the thought hit me, what am I going to do in Gettysburg? My day job enabled me to work from home but Gettysburg didn’t have a yoga studio with the schedule and types of classes that I was used to taking so I thought why not open a studio? Read more>>

Tara Haughton

I started doing braiding and cornrows as a teen in Jamaica and when I migrated to the USA I attended cosmetology school where I achieved my license. I worked at a couple of Salons in Silver Spring MD during and after completing my cosmetology course. When I moved to Frederick in 2018, I noticed there was a shortage of natural hair care professionals so I decided to branch out. My husband and I started a company in 2020 and that is basically the story of my business. Read more>>

Mia Laren

It all began at age 5 when I was asked the question, “What do you want to be when you’re older?” I was always different, never feeling like I truly fit in. I was a dreamer, trying to imagine all of life’s endless possibilities. I was intrigued by thinking outside of the box. However, you are only a dreamer without the tools to build the dream. My mother is the strongest woman I know, I truly thank her for providing those tools in which allowed me to build my dream. I was a late bloomer, starting off with a speech delay, putting me behind in school. I was an IEP student, followed around by a special education teacher and put into a separate classroom. I was also born legally blind in my left eye and had to wear an eyepatch like a pirate. I was not “normal,” but I am glad because it shaped who I am today.  Read more>>

Diana Keat & Cham Nguyen

CK and Diana first learned how to use professional camera equipment back in 2015 when they decided to visit their homelands in Vietnam and Cambodia. They wanted to document their travels and post them on Youtube. Unfortunately, they are not wealthy and could not afford to travel constantly, but a lot of people really enjoyed the food they posted. In 2017, they decided to create “Hypefoodies” on Instagram to showcase the best food to eat in the DMV and beyond. In 2018, they began to post daily and that’s when their page really took off! In 2019, they started to really see the impact they had on the food community as they got a lot of messages from small business owners who told them they changed their lives. That really influenced them to support more local small businesses. (Sidenote: CK & Diana do not message businesses for free food unless the business contacts them first). Read more>>

Marquia Reid

For 10+ plus years, I worked in customer service, to say I love helping people would be saying too little. I really have a love for helping people but better yet I have a love for helping people feel better about themselves. Getting into the beauty industry wasn’t a plan, I think it was my calling. I always wanted to work for myself, and with being a single mother of three, my schedule would be hectic and I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my children because “I always had to work my 9 to 5.” Starting my own business has been a blessing because not only do I do what I love, but I’m able to spend more time with my children and show them what hard work and dedication can do for you. I strive for success in everything that I do. It wasn’t always easy, but if you keep pushing forward you can do anything. Read more>>

Kevin and Alarice Scott

We began our business in October of last year. The business came about to assist us on a debt-free journey. We decided to make our own way based on her having made skin products for herself in the past. We then expanded into soap, a beard line, and candles. Read more>>

Enoc Flores Morales

I was born in a poor village in Trinidad de Quebradas, Honduras, Central America. Not having many educational opportunities, I needed to labor the coffee fields at the age of 8. At age 16, I decided I wanted a better life for myself and my family so I sought out The United States. In 2000, I crossed the jungles of Guatemala and through Mexico and then through the desert of the United States, sleeping outdoors when night fell. Sometimes at cemeteries, sometimes on the train tracks. I had saved $100 to make the trip, which most of it was stolen from me. I sometimes had to beg for food to eat. I began working to save to continue my journey or on many occasions enduring hunger pains. To make the journey from Honduras to the USA, mostly on foot, it took me about four months. When I came to the United States, I started working in the construction industry. I didn’t speak a word of English, I had as far as a sixth-grade education (because I had to stop going to school and start working), as soon as I received my first paycheck in the USA, I started to help my family. Read more>>

Linae Carrington Gillis

Before I knew what event design, interior design, or styling was, my family would tell you they saw the skills needed to pursue those careers in me from an early age. I was the kid that designed place cards for our holiday dinners, designed menu cards with my Crayola crayons and card stock paper. And always wanted the table to be set for dinner. A beautiful tablescape and creating an environment that welcomed guests are skills passed down to me from my grandmother, aunts, and uncles. As the years passed and I grew as a person, I continued to be drawn to styling and designing. One day I convinced my mother and my aunt to buy 100 white chair covers for me. And 300 chair sashes- 100 of each in 3 different colors. That summer, I literally begged people to let me install chair covers at their weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, any celebration. I then added an event planning service to the business and loved every minute of it. As I continued to learn and grow, I became a certified wedding planner. I took time off from the chair cover business to pursue other goals, but there continued to be a strong pull towards styling and designing. Read more>>

Stephanie Banks

During quarantine, I began a platform on TikTok, talking about taboo topics that challenged the status quo, and with one video I went viral—my video was shared across platforms all over and I’ve been creating on TikTok ever since. It started a conversation that challenged conventional ideas of womanhood. Ever since then people have gained value and insight from my videos and being able to enlighten, serve, and brighten someone’s day is so valuable to me. Read more>>

Danyelle Goods

I got where I am at today by simply pulling up my big girl pants, and going for it! When I was younger, I always played in my aunt Debbie’s (Deborah Jackson) cosmetology kits from Hair School. From there, once my mom allowed me to, my nails were dazzling every two weeks. Then about 2 years ago, I was sitting in a nail salon and noticed my nails were not coming out right at all. As I got home, it hit me! “I can do my nails myself!” From there I purchased everything I needed to practice and put myself through Nail School! I attended the Maryland Institute of Nail Technology, graduated, took my state board exams, and have been licensed since December 2020. Read more>>

Corey Laury

I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD born on February 14th, 1997. Growing up, I was always into listening to different kinds of music before I even knew I wanted to start producing. My stepdad has had a huge collection of vinyl records for as long as I can remember. He’s a DJ, so I would always listen in on him spinning records in our basement. My mom has a huge CD collection in this big black case and full of all sorts of R&B, Gospel, and old-school soul music, so I was exposed to alot of different music. Then when I met my biological dad at eight, he would put me on to all different types of music from around the world like Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela, and of course, old school hip hop. Read more>>

Eugenia Halsey

A while back, I gave up a great job I worked long and hard to get — Washington correspondent for CNN — to become a freelance voiceover artist. These days, I record audio narration from my home studio in Maryland, primarily for online training courses. People often wonder how I could walk away from a high profile career on TV for the anonymity of voicing scripts for instructional videos and e-learning. It wasn’t an easy decision. But I craved something the 24/7 life of an on-the-go reporter couldn’t provide: a work-from-home lifestyle with flexible hours and more time with my toddler son and aging parents. Read more>>

Dee Davis

My story started when I was little kid, playing with Lego’s and eating cereal all the time. my imagination was all over the place. Cartoons, movies and more cartoons were the building blocks of my talents. To think about it the 90s had a big media boom and catered to all of us in some way or form. When I was 6 years old, I got placed in GT art for my artwork at the time , I use to draw Dragonball Z and power rangers all the time and had crazy competitions with friends drawing those “S” thingys. (lol) One of my drawings was chosen to be the main graduating class logo. I wish I still had that T-shirt with my logo on it.. (thanks mom) Read more>>

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